Judge delays next week’s execution of Kirtland cult killer

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – A federal judge on Tuesday delayed the Oct. 24 execution of cult leader Jeffrey Lundgren to allow him to join a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s use of lethal injection.

Judge Gregory Frost of U.S. District Court issued an order temporarily stopping the execution and allowing Lundgren to join the challenge of five other death row inmates.

In his request to join the lawsuit, Lundgren, 56, says he is at even greater risk of experiencing pain and suffering during injection than other inmates because he is overweight and diabetic.

However, Frost’s ruling indicates the delay could be only temporary. He said it appears to him that potential flaws with Ohio’s execution process could be fixed easily.

“Thus, any delay in carrying out Lundgren’s execution should and can be minimal,” Frost said.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction confirmed it had received the delay.

Attorney General Jim Petro will appeal the ruling to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, said spokesman Mark Anthony.

Lundgren was convicted of shooting a family of five to death in 1989, including three children, while they stood in a pit dug inside his barn in northeast Ohio.

The victims were Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 46; and daughters Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and Karen, 7.

Lundgren formed a cult after he was dismissed in 1987 as a lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now known as the Community of Christ. Several people had moved with him to a rented farm house 23 miles east of Cleveland, where they called him “Dad” and contributed money for group expenses.

The Averys had moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow Lundgren’s teachings.

Lundgren said passages in the Bible told him to kill the family, and witnesses said the family was not as enthusiastic about the cult as Lundgren would have liked.

Frost’s decision allows Lundgren to join a 2004 lawsuit brought by death row inmate Richard Cooey, convicted of the rape and murder of two University of Akron students in 1986.

Cooey argues that the way chemicals used in lethal injection are administered makes the process painful enough to amount to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the constitution.

Four other inmates had previously joined the lawsuit.

Ohio’s method of lethal injection came under national scrutiny by death penalty opponents in May after problems slowed the execution of Joseph Clark. The execution team had trouble finding a suitable vein in the arms of Clark, a former intravenous drug user, and the vein they chose collapsed as the chemicals started flowing.

The Ohio Supreme Court originally set Lundgren’s execution for Oct. 10, then delayed it until Oct. 24 because Gov. Bob Taft – who has the final word on executions – would have been out of the country on a trade mission.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
AP, via The Beacon Journal, USA
Oct. 17, 2006
Andrew Welsh-Huggins

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This post was last updated: Dec. 31, 2014